Safety of the Chisholm Trail at risk from new development at Cambridge station

Camcycle warns that new buildings at Cambridge Station proposed by developer Brookgate will threaten the safety of cyclists using the Chisholm Trail if approved this week by the city council. We have long campaigned for a safe, segregated route through the station area to link up the northern sections of the walking and cycling trail with the southern part of the Busway path, but the opportunity to achieve this may soon be lost if the developer is allowed to go ahead with its current plans.   

The developer’s visualisation of the ‘car park access road’ disingenuously shows no cars at all and only one cycle in an area which will be a link for the Chisholm Trail, the city’s biggest cycleway. (Image: Formation Architects/Brookgate)

The proposals under consideration would see offices, an aparthotel and multi-storey car park added to the area, with new vehicle movements adding to existing conflicts around the station. In 2019, comments submitted to Camcycle by members of the public branded the station area a “traffic-soaked sewer” with a “mini-roundabout of death”. All road users, including taxi drivers and other motorists, as well as people walking and cycling, were united in their concerns about safety and wayfinding.

The decision to approve or refuse the current plans was deferred four months ago, following a debate amongst members of the council’s planning committee. Councillors were concerned that the development would fail to prioritise the movement and safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the area and restrict the space available to provide for high-quality cycling and walking routes, including the Chisholm Trail.

Safe route needed for cyclists of all ages and abilities

Although the developer claims that its proposals safeguard the Trail (and positively contribute to its construction through financial contributions), it rejects the need for a dedicated cycle route between the covered cycle bridge and the station. Council planning officers note that a segregated route would conflict with “the applicant’s vision” for the public realm in this area.

Local transport authorities have not yet come up with a detailed plan for the Chisholm Trail section by the station, but it is clear that it will have to go through the area covered by this proposed development. Failing to provide a safe link here would threaten the whole premise of the multi-million pound scheme, which is promoted by Greater Cambridge Partnership as a first-class walking and cycling route, mostly off-road and traffic-free. The background paper to the Trail presented to the GCP in 2015 noted that ‘continuity of route is essential’, and the public consultation leaflet published the same year marks the link between the covered bridge and the station as a traffic-free path. Last year, papers presented to the GCP by county council officers reiterated the strategy for the Trail as a route to encourage more active travel journeys between key destinations including employment sites, where “vulnerable road users would be able to avoid heavy traffic and junctions”.

Section of the map produced by the Greater Cambridge Partnership for the public consultation in 2015, showing the station connection as a traffic-free path. (Image: Greater Cambridge Partnership)

Both local and national policies also support the need for a safe, protected cycle route in this location. The city council’s Local Plan states that developments in the station area should help promote and coordinate the use of sustainable transport modes and make them the safest way to move around Cambridge, while protecting existing and proposed routes such as the Chisholm Trail. New government guidance on cycle infrastructure design specifies that cycleways should be designed to carry significant numbers of cyclists and be inclusive of all types of cycle, with people cycling protected from high volumes of motor traffic in busy locations, such as Great Northern Road and Station Square. Over 10,000 motor vehicles per day are expected to use the mini-roundabout in this area so a segregated cycle route past the junction must be provided.

Edward Leigh, Chair of South Petersfield Residents Association and leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, said:

“The north-south cycle route between Mill Road and the Guided Busway is set to be one of the busiest cycle routes in the city. Thousands of people a day will travel to, from and past the railway station to get to work, schools, hospitals and other destinations. By general consensus, the station area is not easy to navigate on foot or cycle. It is dominated by large volumes of motor traffic, making it intimidating to many people. The traffic also creates intolerable air and noise pollution for residents of Great Northern Rd.

The station area should be an efficient, safe transport hub and through-route, an attractive centre for business, and a place to live healthily and happily. As they stand, the plans put forward are likely to be detrimental to the area, architecturally and functionally. It is the responsibility of planners to ensure that developments enhance the city, now and for the fifty-plus years that the buildings will be there. We hope the planning committee is brave enough to demand better.”

In order to protect space for a segregated walking and cycling route such as that shown above, the ground floor footprint of the office building (F2) must be scaled back. (Image: Smarter Cambridge Transport/Camcycle)

Camcycle supports proposals by Smarter Cambridge Transport for a protected cycleway all the way from Devonshire Road to the southern Busway path to allow users of the Trail to bypass the congested mini-roundabout and stay safe from traffic on the access road to the new car park. The ground floor of the office building proposed by the developer must be scaled back to allow space for this route and the large and growing number of users which the Trail is expected to attract.

Camcycle’s Executive Director, Roxanne De Beaux, said:

 “The Chisholm Trail has been welcomed by all local authorities as a flagship route to increase cycling and walking journeys across the city and deliver benefits including improved public health and reduced congestion. It is vital that the key link to Cambridge station is designed to help people access this important transport hub on foot or by cycle and to allow safe journeys through the area for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. We urge members of the Planning Committee to continue to place high value on the long-term benefits to the city of this landmark route over the short-term inconvenience to the developer of reworking their plans. As it stands, this planning application must be rejected.”

We encourage everyone who cares about the Chisholm Trail and the need for a safe route for all ages and abilities through the Cambridge station area to write to members of the Planning Committee (click on each name to find email addresses) before Friday 16 October urging them to reject the proposals in their current form.